Cruise travel: 10 things to know before embarking on your first cruise trip

Ex-Cruise Ship Employee Reveals ‘Crazy Cruise Ship Stuff You Might Not Know About’ Video / @laurentalkssmack

Planning your first cruise trip? Whether you’re embarking on a two-week voyage aboard a huge ship or taking a short inland cruise for a few days, there are some things you need to know.

1. Arrive at your departure port a day earlier

If you choose one point to follow, make it this one. Largely because it’s hard to get the most out of a cruise if you’re not on the boat. Between the mountains of lost luggage, canceled flights and delays, it’s worth allowing yourself at least a day or two in the departure city. If your trip goes as planned, you have one day to properly explore the port city, but if any delays occur, you will still depart the cruise.

2. Check the dress code

As with any other vacation, not all cruise lines or cruise itineraries follow the same dress code. Some liners are famous for evenings that call for a black tie or a ball gown. Others are full of activities for which you will need cargo pants and hiking boots. Instead of wasting time and money buying items on board or in port towns, check the ship’s itinerary and recommended packing list to see what you need. Don’t like to be dolled up? Many cruise ships allow passengers to “opt out” of fancy dress dinners, so it’s worth asking.

3. Take advantage of hand sanitizer

The pandemic has encouraged a new standard of cleanliness and sanitation. In addition to crew protocols like increased cleaning schedules, passengers are urged to use hand sanitizer stations regularly (especially before meals) and to wear masks or distancing in certain areas like the buffets in the dining room.

4. Know what’s included

Nothing puts a damper on a trip like getting hit with a bill for things you thought were included. Every cruise is different when it comes to items that incur extra charges, and it pays (literally) to know that before you go. Especially because you may not be notified of a charge until it’s time to disembark and settle the bill. Some cruises include meals but charge for drinks, or include washing machines but charge for washing powder. Find out in advance what you need to pay extra and how much.

5. Take your time

Cruising may seem like a leisurely way to travel, but some routes are crowded from sunrise to sunset. After a break from travel, it can be tempting to go on all the excursions, participate in all the activities, and soak in as much as you can. If your cruise is a short 4 or 5 days this may be sustainable, but for slightly longer trips be sure to take it slow and give yourself permission to relax and tap into whatever.

6. Getting seasick

From pills to patches, hypnotherapy strips to peppermint oil, there are an abundance of options to choose from when dealing with seasickness. While some people prefer natural remedies made from ginger or peppermint and others prefer a traditional breakfast pill, many seasoned cruise goers can be seen sporting a discreet patch behind their ear. Commonly sold as Scopoderm, they can be purchased at most pharmacies.

7. Get to know the crew

From sunrise viewing sites to interesting outings, no one will know the cruise ship better than its crew. Chatting with other travelers is a great way to make friends and if they’re die-hard cruise fans, they’ll be full of cruise-related tips and tricks. But if you’re looking for the scoop, the porters, servers, entertainers, and tour guides are your best bet.

8. Bring hand luggage

If you are boarding a larger ship, your suitcase will likely be picked up by porters who will deliver it to the room later in the day. This saves you from carrying luggage to your room, but also means you’ll be without a lot of items for a few hours. By packing a bathing suit, spare shirt, or other essentials in a carry-on, you can make the most of the day without waiting for your suitcase.

9. Join a Facebook group

When cruising on a large ship, it can be impossible to know which attractions or activities are worthwhile. Fortunately, there are dozens of private Facebook groups you can join that are dedicated to certain cruise lines, cruise ships, or cruises in general. Here people share tips, reviews and opinions as well as questions that the wider community is happy to help answer.

10. Switch to airplane mode

From experience, even the most tech-savvy traveler can be surprised by mobile phone charges abroad, especially when traveling between countries. This becomes even more important when cruising, as international waters often incur incredibly high charges for calls, texts and internet. Phone companies and cruise lines offer cruise-specific plans, but we recommend just putting your phone on airplane mode and using the ship’s free Wi-Fi to text, call, and connect.

Want to cruise or curious to know more? Don’t miss next Tuesday’s NZ Herald for a massive cruise-themed travel magazine.